Pick! ASR Music ~~ Living Room “Tosca” – Cinnabar Theater Brings Opera Home

By Jeff Dunn

The Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma is small enough to be somebody’s living room, a lucky thing. Author Alexandra Adornetto reminds us that for kids, imagination and invention go hand in hand there. “Shift a few pieces or furniture around,” she says, “and you have yourself a fort.”

Or an opera.

Intimacy was a laudable goal for Cinnabar’s production of Puccini’s Tosca. Vocal artists could maximize beauty by not having to strain to reach distant back walls. The audience could be moved by facial-expression details without a need for TV monitors. Surtitles would not distract from the action since the opera was sung in English. But to capitalize on intimacy, voices had to be great, singers had to act, and pronunciation had to be clear. Furthermore, the small chamber orchestra had to consist of musicians of soloistic quality.

Fortunately the Elly Lichenstein’s and Mary Chun’s respective stage and music direction helped to bring the advantages of intimacy home in almost all respects.

Michelle Drever as Tosca in Puccini’s “Tosca,” (Courtesy of Cinnabar Theater/Pocket Opera).

Michelle Allie Drever was an exceptionally passionate, fiery, and expressive Tosca, with a gorgeous and accurate voice to boot. Alex Boyer’s Cavaradossi was superb in all respects. I was particularly impressed how he included an often neglected aspect to his character–the slight aloofness of his aristocratic origins combined with a yet heated passion for Tosca and republicanism.

…Elly Lichenstein’s and Mary Chun’s respective stage and music direction helped to bring the advantages of intimacy home..

Spencer Dodd’s Scarpia was on the money vocally. His strikingly evil expressions were melodramatically boo-worthy, but detracted from subtlety of character that could have been mined from his backstory as a man under pressure in a complex political environment.

Michelle Dever (right) as Tosca and Spencer Dodd (left) as Scarpia in Cinnabar’s “Tosca.” (Courtesy of Cinnabar Theater)

Jordan Eldredge as Angelotti and Gene Wright as the Sacristan fulfilled their roles admirably, as did the rest of the cast.

The Cinnabar theatre program neglected to credit the Italian librettists Illica and Giacosa and the English translation by co-producer Pocket Opera’s Donald Pippin. In English, the beauty of the Italian is largely lost, but the immediacy of the story is enhanced, for the most part (though I quibble with “muori, muori” being said as “damn you, damn you” instead of “die, die” as Tosca faces the writhing Scarpia). Boyer was a champion in that all his English was utterly understandable. (He confessed that it was hard to unlearn the Italian, which he has sung five times previously.) Occasionally, however, this reviewer found the other vocalists were difficult to understand in their higher ranges at dramatic moments.

Lichenstein’s non-verbal additions to the stage directions were some of the joys of this production. The opera opened with children in the church before Angelotti’s usual arrival. Act 2 added two women amusing Scarpia at his meal, and a secret hiding place for the killer knife Tosca surprisingly discovers. Act 3 begins with two girls instead of a shepherd boy.

Another joy opening the act, BTW, was Susanne Chasalow’s perfect horn solo (full productions use 4 horns, one or more of which always see to make a boo-boo).

Michelle Dever (right) as Tosca in Cinnabar’s “Tosca.” (Courtesy of Cinnabar Theater)

A final advantage of Tosca in Cinnabar’s living room is you can chat with the artists afterward. Pretend that their characters were relatives who had misbehaved at a family dinner, and suggest a name of a good therapist they could see, and bring a smile to their lips!


Jeff Dunn is ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor. A retired educator and project manager, he’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA. His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

Based on the play byVictorien Sardu
Directed byElly Lichenstein
Producing CompanyCinnabar Theater
Production DatesThrough June 25th
Production Address3333 Petaluma Blvd North
Petaluma, CA 94952
Telephone (707) 763-8920
Tickets$30 – $50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!